Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article in The Atlantic titled, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Normally, these alarmist headlines tend to make me skeptical, but the subhead pulled me in: “More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.” That sentence rang true to me (and, as a father of four post-Millennials, tweaked all kinds of inner fears), so I dug in for a long read.

The article – and forthcoming book, iGen – paints a picture of a dramatic shift in teen behaviors and emotional states. The author, Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has been studying generational data for decades and has never seen anything like it. “Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states,” she writes. “The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear.”

“The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet.”

If that sounds like the demographics in your household, pay attention. Twenge argues that the smartphone, certainly among other factors, has played a defining role. The data pivots in 2012, the same year when more than 50% of them owned a smartphone. The impact on their activities and behavior has been dramatic, both for good and for bad. Some examples:

  • They’re less likely to get into a car accident (because they’re less likely to be driving – 25% finish high school without a driver’s license)
  • Less likely to drink alcohol
  • Less likely to have sex
  • Less likely to spend time hanging out with friends (the number of teens who get together with friends nearly every day has dropped 40% from 2000 to 2015)
  • Less likely to leave the house without their parents (12th graders in 2015 were going out less often than 8th graders in 2009)
  • Less likely to date (in 2015, only 56% of high school seniors went out on dates, for Boomers and Gen Xers, it was 85%)
  • More likely to feel lonely
  • More likely to be sleep-deprived
  • At higher risk for suicide

So what are they doing with their time? “They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed,” Twenge says. One of the teens she interviewed for the book told her, “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

Sound familiar?

But the frightening thing is the impact it’s having on them. You might think that spending all this time on Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook would be making them happy, but everything points in the opposite direction.

The Monitoring the Future survey has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried 8th- and 10th-graders since 1991. The results are clear: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

“There’s not a single exception,” Twenge writes. “All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.”

“When teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness and depression are more common. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27%, while those who play sports, go to church, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly. Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.”

The article continues to paint a compelling (and gloomy) picture, and it’s very worthy of reading and will hopefull spark some engaging conversations. The statistics seem beyond reproach: just spend a few minutes with this chart, and you’ll see how these trends are intensifying. But with this awareness comes understanding, and understanding can provoke action. We need to help them better understand the long-term impact and encourage them to limit time and use.

There is hope. The data indicates that any reduction in the amount of time spent on devices has a positive impact. The challenge is to make it happen.

Twenge suggests, “The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.”

Heartbreak leads to a tiny, lovely tribute from a worldwide community

rebeccapurple

Rebecca Alison Meyer
June 7, 2008 – June 7, 2014

Eric Meyer is an expert in what we call Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which are used to control how things “look” in your web browser. Truth be told, he’s a bit of a legend who has spearheaded the development of making it easier for us to build beautiful things. At Rare Bird, we’re all familiar with his work and some of us have either heard him speak or read his books (or, in a few cases, both.)

A couple of weeks ago, on June 7, his daughter Rebecca passed away. She was six.

Eric and his wife, Kathryn, requested that those who attend the services and are comfortable wearing purple do so in honor of Rebecca and her favorite color. Upon hearing this, a member of the WC3 staff, Dom Hazaël-Massieux, requested that a purple in the CSS color list be named “Becca Purple” in her memory. Eric suggested that it be named “rebeccapurple” instead, because his daughter wanted everyone to call her Rebecca after she turned six, and – after all – she was six for almost 12 hours.

On Saturday, June 21, Rebecca Purple (#663399) was officially added as the 141st color to be recognized by name by all web browsers.

And so, from this tremendous heartbreak, a color is born.

This is why I write things down (and why you should, too)

Keep a Journal

Remembering what they say is the best reason to keep a journal

I was glancing through recent entries in my journal and found this gem from March 9, 2013:

Grace: “It’s been soo long since I was swimming in a pool!”
Char: “I know, it’s great.”
Grace: “It’s so much better than trying to do it in the bathtub!”

I had no memory of this. If I hadn’t written it down, it would have been lost forever. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me.

It’s happening to you, too, whether you know it or not. So start writing things down.

For simplicity, I’m using Day One, a Mac-based digital journal that makes it simple to record little items like this and longer form entries. I highly recommend it.

I also found this tip from Michael Hyatt the other day and I’ve been trying it since I read it. I think he’s definitely on to something. His advice? Use a template to prompt your entries. Here’s the (short) article where he lays it out and provides the template he uses. Try it, it works.

What can Brown do for you?

Scout has her own reasons for liking the UPS man

Scout has her own reasons for liking the UPS man

Char told me a story yesterday that I hadn’t heard before. It goes like this:

A few years ago, my Mom sent the kids a bunch of cookies for Easter. They arrived by UPS truck. The kids were ecstatic and over-sugared for days. Score a point for Grandma (and, apparently, the UPS man, because after this delivery they’d shout “Cookies!” and head for the door every time they saw the UPS truck.)

Funny enough, until you imagine how their little hearts broke each time it just drove on by – or worse, stopped to deliver something entirely NOT cookies. Still, they associated the sights and sounds of the big brown truck with cookies just as they did the sights and sounds of that creepy van with ice cream of questionable value and provenance. (An aside: I’m not sure where they get the die for the popsicles coming out of the back of the ice cream truck, but let it touch anything and it will stain for life.)

Fast forward to this week, when Char is out walking Scout and the UPS truck comes around the corner and stops at a neighbor’s house. Scout starts dragging her in the direction of truck. As the tug of war continues, Scout stops dead in her tracks and sits in the street. It takes some amount of coaxing to get her moving again.

As they continue their walk, the UPS truck catches up. Again, Scout starts pulling in the direction of the truck. Char’s mystified… until the truck stops, the UPS man hops out and says to Scout, “Aw, good girl, so good to see you again…” and tosses her a treat.

Score another point for the UPS man, who now apparently only delivers dog cookies.

(The kids are looking at you, Grandma.)

“You’ve just been pep-talked!”

Kid President's Awesome YearEveryone needs a little pep talk now and then. Here’s yours for today, presented by Kid President, a kid with wisdom beyond his years. His primary message: “You were made to be awesome. Now get out there and get to it.”

I suggest you watch it. Bookmark it. Then come back tomorrow and watch it again.

Some pearls of wisdom in there, including these:

The world needs you; stop being boring. Boring is easy, everybody can be boring. But you’re gooder than that.

This is life, people! You got air coming through your nose! You got a heartbeat! That means it’s time to do something!

A poem: “Two roads diverged in the woods. And I took the road less traveled. AND IT HURT, MAN!” Really bad! Rocks! Thorns! Glass! My pants broke! NOT COOL ROBERT FROST!

But what if there really were two paths? I want to be on the one that leads to awesome.

It’s like that dude Journey said: ‘Don’t stop believing. Unless your dream is stupid. Then you should bet a better dream.’ I think that’s how it goes. Get a better dream, then keep goin’, keep goin’, and keep goin’.

What if Michael Jordan had quit? Well, he did quit. But he retired, yeah that’s it, he retired. But before that? In high school? What if he quit when he didn’t make the team? he would have never made Space Jam. (And I love Space Jam.)

What will be your Space Jam? What will you create when you make the world awesome? Nothing if you keep sitting’ there! This is why I’m talking to you today!

This is your time! This is my time! This is our time! We can make every day better for each other.

If we’re all on the same team, let’s start acting like it. We’ve got work to do. We can cry about it, or we can dance about it.

You were made to be awesome. Let’s get out there!

I don’t know everything, I’m just a kid. But I do know this: It’s everyone’s duty to give the world a reason to dance. So get to it.

You’ve just been pep-talked!

This is exactly how I feel about what the team is doing here at Rare Bird. These guys are creating awesome every day, often without any fanfare and definitely not enough dancing. So kudos to you, Birds. Now get back out there and get to it!

(Note: Kid President dedicated this pep talk to Gabbi, “who is fighting cancer. Like a boss!” This kid is awesome. Here’s a little more background info on Robby, aka Kid President.)